Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns


Roderic O'Conor
1860 - 1940


Christie's, London, 3 March 1989, lot 381;
Private collection, Northern Ireland;
Christie's, London, 20 May 1999, lot 193 


Taylor Gallery, London, Irish Art in the 20th Century, 1989, no.24;
Taylor Gallery, London, Ireland and the Modern Movement, 1990, no.27;
Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13-  28 May 2000, illustrated p.68


Jonathan Benington, Roderic O'Conor, Dublin, 1992, no.179, p.211-12


A century ago the small fishing port of Cassis near Marseille in the South of France had much to offer the painter - a picturesque harbour, dramatic cliffs and mountains, and a coastline indented by rocky inlets, all bathed in bright Mediterranean light. Georges Braque, André Derain and Othon Friesz had painted fauve landscapes in the area around 1906, encouraging other artists to follow in their wake. O'Conor first made the long journey from Paris in 1912 and returned the following year, staying from summer through to winter. During this second visit he was in contact with Charles Camoin, Albert Marquet and Henri Manguin, whilst the English-speaking contingent expanded with the arrival of J.D. Fergusson, S. J. Peploe and Anne Estelle Rice. 

Cassis gave O'Conor new inspiration and triggered a return to landscape painting at the expense of studio subjects. The paintings he produced were characterised by bright pure colours and a bold confident technique. He tended to steer clear of the obvious picturesque subjects such as the harbour and town, favouring instead the imposing summit of Le Cap Canail fronted by isolated farmsteads, sun-drenched orchards and vineyards.

The present work represents a mountain stream that changes level as it reaches a small waterfall, the closest stretch of water just catching the light of the setting sun. Although the steep slopes of the valley are silhouetted, they still glow red, pink and purple, as do the wall and path above the left bank of the stream. The picture has been painted methodically using short parallel brushstrokes and small dabs of colour - a Cézannesque approach that marks a change from the dabbed and stained surfaces typical of his Cassis landscapes. The rapidly fading light may have obliged the artist to complete the work under cover, away from the subject, and it is possible that it dates from the first shorter trip to Cassis. The measured tonal progression from dark foreground to radiant background aligns with the system he had devised in Paris for indoor subjects that were backlit.

Jonathan Benington

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns